When it Comes to Housing Justice There is No Shortage of Land - Just Political Will

To meet Northern Ireland's housing need adequately will require bold new policies and actions that would deliver better places for us all to live in. Dr Agustina Martire  |  Fri Jun 11 2021
Agustina speaking at a Streetspace Event
‘Private developers and investors now dominate housing systems in an unprecedented fashion, often divorcing housing from its social function by treating it as a commodity for speculation.’ Leilani Farha - Guidelines for the Implementation of the Right to Adequate Housing

Adequate housing is a human right. Homelessness is unacceptable in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, while lack of adequate housing affects more and more families.

Belfast is probably one of the most affordable places in Western Europe, yet some people still cannot afford an adequate home.

But there is no shortage of land for development in Belfast. Brownfield sites, including Mackie's, would be ripe and well placed for housing at least some of the 37 thousand families who are in need of an adequate home.

This is a golden opportunity for the Department to provide the right type of housing for families and individuals in need.

Unfortunately most of these sites are being subjected to private development. However, parts of these sites and others are owned by the Department for Communities. This is a golden opportunity for the Department to provide the right type of housing for families and individuals in need, strategically located in the city, close to services and amenities needed for people to have a good quality of life.

In the past few decades, housing policies have not satisfied housing need, while strategies are yet to explore new social, public and affordable housing models. These could not only provide a roof over people’s heads but also the sense of place and belonging that is essential for an adequate standard of living.

Right now, the Belfast Local Development Plan stipulates that 20% of housing in new private developments should be allocated to social housing.  But this plan has still not been approved as policy. And even if it does, which would be very positive, it is yet to be seen how it will be delivered.

Precedents in England show that when private developers deliver ‘mixed tenure’, the quality of social housing is radically lower than that of the private areas of the same developments.

In Belfast, we have seen how some private developers plan the provision the 20% social housing isolated in one single building, or outside their red line, fostering division and preventing the organic development of mixed use and mixed tenure.

We don’t want to go back to low quality design and construction, which eventually needs significant further investment, repair and even demolition. Social, public and affordable housing needs to be delivered with quality so that it can last, and has to be integrated with services and amenities for an adequate quality of life.

This will only be achieved with a positive and collaborative effort between the government, housing experts and the communities involved, in Jane Jacobs’ words, the ‘great and wonderful criss-cross of relationships that give us the ability to repair our wounds and right our evils’.

Agustina will be one of the guest speakers at our The Status Quo is Not an Option event, which takes place from 10-11:30am on Thursday 24 June. Book now.

Agustina is senior lecturer in architecture with an interest in urban history and theory, specifically in the significance of local mixed streets, their fabric, histories and experiences.

She currently leads the StreetSpace project, an international and interdisciplinary project that studies local  mixed streets, shedding light on the way streets are used, experienced and represented. This is linked to a series of workshops, with the collaboration of scholars from different academic backgrounds, practitioners, civil servants and activists in the UK and abroad.